...on a curiously hot spring day.
As you know, I buy one organic chicken a month. I am on a never-ending quest to find the perfect way to roast the faithful hen and I think I may have found it. I had previously thought that the secret lay in cooking the chicken bosom side down so all the juices flood straight into the part that can be driest. That was before I read the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. You will recall that I have taken to her ‘salt meat at least 24 hours before you cook it’ mantra with all the fervour of a fully paid up cult member. The results that I have had have just been too good to think that her ideas are mere bunkum. It really does work.
Now, I’m not talking about submerging meat in liquid brine, simply rubbing the meat with salt (the amount is roughly ¾ teaspoon per 1 lb meat), pepper and perhaps some herbs for extra flavour, and leaving it, covered, in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours. Your meat will then be tender and flavoursome. With chicken or turkey, it would seem especially important to brine the meat to infuse it with that all important flavour and moistness that it seems to sometimes lack (particularly if your bird is not of great provenance).
But, enough proselytising about the brining. Back to the chicken in question. Despite the temperature being well in the 20s (that’s centigrade), I still wanted a roast chicken for lunch on Saturday. I suppose the child in me that has never quite grown up still remembers the days when roasting a chicken was a special occasion, so expensive was it. Like myself, my mum would always roast the chicken in a slightly different way: using a ‘tent’ of foil to cover it, smearing it with margarine (butter was frowned upon in those days) on the skin and under the skin, cooking it belly side up, belly side down. It would seem that lovers of the roast chicken are looking for the holy grail of roasting, the one chicken prepared in such a way that it tastes so sublime that you would die happy just to smell it.
I think I have gotten close but until I try a truly organic, fresh chicken, I think that day is still someway off for me.
In the meantime, I have my brining techniques.
The chicken for this particular recipe, Roast Chicken and Bread Salad, is roasted slightly differently to your average chicken. After its time spent in the salt, the chicken is rubbed completely dry and roasted for no more than an hour at the highest setting your oven will go (mine was 230c). The skin blisters and bronzes but the meat beneath remains brilliant white and incredibly moist.
I had reservations that it was going to be stringy and tough but as soon as Paul started to carve it, I could see that these fears were unnecessary.
The salad itself was the perfect choice for a warm spring day. Warm roast chicken tossed with olive-oil brushed bread that has been lightly toasted, a slightly tart wine vinegar dressing and some soft salad leaves. Most fortuitous, for me at least, was the surfeit of raggedy chicken leftovers so make stock with.
For dessert I wanted to celebrate the warm days so it was out with the rich chocolate puds and in with a light fruity dish, pinched from the ever-reliable Nigel Slater. Plums de-stoned and halved, the pink cavities filled with whole raspberries and then each half is smeared with a generous spoonful of creamy mascarpone cheese, gently scented with vanilla extract. This luscious dessert is then sprinkled with demerara sugar and put under a hot grill under golden and bubbling.
What is most wonderful is, depending on what time of year it is you can alter the fruits (i.e. peaches, poaches pears) and the filling (blackberries, blueberries, ground almonds or a whole ball of marzipan) to suit what is in season or to suit your palate. And it only takes 2 minutes to make! The perfect ending.
...on a curiously hot spring day.